Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation and an early leader in establishing the Nashville tea party movement, is now a columnist with The Washington Times. In his WT column last Friday he argues that it is time to end the war on drugs. I could not agree more. Phillips lays out how the war on drugs as been a failure and the ill effects it has created and the unintended consequences of this failed policy:
Today it consumes billions of dollars. It has created a law enforcement profit industry, where law enforcement can take money and property away from innocent people. These people, who are frequently not even charged with a crime, are forced to go to court, if they can afford a lawyer, and they are forced to prove their property is lawfully theirs.
The war on drugs has incarcerated tens of thousands of people whose only crime was a drug offense. It has created Mexican drug cartels that terrorize not only Mexico but are now reaching into the United States. These cartels reap huge profits from illegal drugs.Phillips goes on to argue however that in replacing the War on Drugs, we should regulate drugs and users. He proposes that those who want to use drugs should have to register with the government and they would be prohibited form working in certain occupations and would be prohibited from using public assistance programs. He says, "The the penalties for possession of drugs by an unregistered user should be draconian."
I am afraid what Phillips is proposing is no solution at all. There are a lot of causal and occasional users of marijuana. Does one seriously think these people would register with the government? I know I wouldn't, (if I was a user). There are a lot of users of pot who may only occasionally smoke at parties or with close friends. These users are more like social drinkers. They are not going to register as drug users. There are also users who may smoke a little dope now and then in the privacy of their home. They may get a little buzz a few times a week but they smoke small quantities and a little may last them for months. Does anyone think these people will register with the government and get their drug-user permit? I think very few user of pot, the most prevalent illegal drug, would register?
Maybe registering heroin addicts has some merit, but I doubt it would work with other drugs. His proposal would not end the war on drugs because to continue draconian measures for non registered users is to continue the war on drugs.
I think we should partially decriminalize pot immediately. No one should be imprisoned for possession of small amounts. Then, we should regulate it, perhaps following the pattern of Amsterdam, or perhaps taxing it and regulating it much like we do alcohol. I am not coming from an absolutist libertarian position on this issue, but a more pragmatic view. Pot is relatively harmless. It is less harmful than alcohol by far, both as a social problem and a health problem. People should not be criminals for using it. Prohibition of marijuana has not worked. This does not mean that I think meth or heroin or all other drugs should be legalized. We need to decide the best policy with regards to crack and power cocaine. Should those two forms of the same drug be treated so differently? This, and the policy on other drugs should be examined, but decriminalizing pot is a good place to start. If we end the war on pot, we have ended about 90% of the war on drugs.
I am glad to see Justin Phillips recognize that, "The drug war has been a total disaster on every front." I am afraid however, that his proposal is not an improvement and would not end that war.